The 2021 high school football season is finally here! After the COVID pandemic truncated the 2020 season, we are back for a full season of football. “Week 0” games were added to the schedule when the move to six classifications happened in 2016, giving teams the option to choose either a second scrimmage or to have a self-scheduled game. Statistics from these games do count toward season stats and wins and losses are also part of the final record tally. With schools able to schedule their own opponents in Week 0, a number of historical rivalries are on tap along with games against opponents from outside the WPIAL footprint. The premier event of the weekend is the “Western PA vs Everyone” showcase at the Wolvarena. Be sure to listen to the Season Preview episodes of the WPIAL Blitz Show!
This year, our WPIAL coverage is sponsored by the Sports Stream Premium Network and PA Mortgage Protection and Life Insurance. The Sports Stream Premium Network enables schools to turn their livestreamed events into pay-per-view events where schools receive 100% of the revenue generated.
I will once again be doing a pregame spot on WMBS Radio. You can listen to the show here, starting at 6pm on Friday. This weekend, WMBS will be broadcasting the Fayette County showdown between Laurel Highlands and Connellsville on Friday night. Laurel Highlands boasts one of the most exciting players in the WPIAL in junior Rodney Gallagher while Connellsville is looking to bounce back from a winless 2020 season. See below for a full preview of this game. On Saturday, WMBS will have a bonus broadcast of Frazier at Bishop Canevin. Frazier narrowly missed the playoffs in 2A last year and should be a strong contender this season. Bishop Canevin has missed the postseason in three straight years but will be in the playoff race in 1A this season.
Be sure to keep tabs on our WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season and follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz. Here’s a look at the top games on the slate this week, organized by some of the top rivalry games in each county and the premier games of the Showcase.
Western PA vs Everyone Showcase
Central Catholic vs Imhotep Charter
This is a matchup of two of the top teams in the state and arguable the best game statewide in Week 0. Central Catholic is the two-time defending WPIAL Champs and enters the season as the #2-ranked team in the state in 6A. Imhotep tops the statewide 5A rankings. Central Catholic will once again be strong in the trenches led by Notre Dame-commit Donovan Hinish. In the secondary, JD Younger, Devon Barren, and Bo Waddell all have drawn D1 attention. The Vikings are traditionally a run-heavy team and have stable of backs with Gannon Carothers and Antonio Pitts. This will help take some of the load off sophomore Payton Wehner who will step into the starting quarterback role. The X factor for the Vikings is Brandon Jackson who has blazing speed and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball on offense or as a kick returner. Imhotep did not play in the fall last season but dominated in the Philadelphia Public League in the spring, outscoring their opponents 112-8 in four games. Imhotep is absolutely loaded with talent, starting with DE Enai White who has offers from nearly every major D1 program and rated as one of the top pass rushing recruits nationally. Their talent at edge rusher is insanely deep with Penn State-commit Keon Wylie and Temple-Commit Khalif Kemp also on the roster. The Panthers secondary is also stacked with talent with Army-commit Jamir Reyes, junior safety Rahmir Stewart who has offers from all the major programs. For an inside look at Imhotep Charter football, check out this interview with head coach Devon Johnson on the “Pre Snap Look” show, which covers D1 and D12 football.
Gateway vs Delaware Valley
6pm at Bald Eagle Area HS
This game was a last-minute schedule adjustment based on COVID-related cancellations. Gateway was scheduled to play a team from Canada while Delaware Valley was supposed to play a team from Florida. Both were unable to make the trip to Pennsylvania, so these two schools from across the state scheduled a matchup earlier this week. Gateway is the third-ranked team in the 5A State Rankings while Delaware Valley was the top-ranked 6A team from District 2. Gateway was the beneficiary of the Birch Brothers transferring from Jeannette. QB Brad Birch who already has a scholarship offer from Oregon after his freshman campaign, throwing for 1643 yards and 30 TDs en route to a WPIAL title and trip to the State Finals. His older brother Brett Birch, a wide receiver with a Central Michigan offer, was on the receiving end for 659 yards and 10 TDs for the Jayhawks. In addition to his brother Brett, Brad Birch will also have Cincinnati-commit WR/DB Patrick Body (176 yards, 2 TDs) on the outside. Del Val was the D2 champions last season and reached the quarterfinals of the PIAA playoffs where they lost to Central York. Delaware Valley will be a strong team in the trenches that is working in new starters at the offensive skill positions. Watch out for sophomore TE/LB Aiden Black, who already has a D1 offer. For more info on the Warriors, check out their season preview from EasternPAFootball.
Pine-Richland vs Harrisburg
Pine-Richland is the defending WPIAL and PIAA 5A Champions, but had the most chaotic offseason of any program in the state. After the school board fired the entire coaching staff, the Rams had to bring in an entirely new staff, led by longtime Seneca Valley assistant Steve Campos. The Rams will have the talent on the field to make a run at another WPIAL title, but the off-field question marks will be something this team has to show they can overcome. Defensively the Rams will be stout, led by Duke-commit Jeremiah Hasley at linebacker. Up front, Jalen Klemm, the son of Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has a number of D1 offers. Cole Boyd figures to take over at quarterback and Brooks Eastburn the lead back role after averaging 9 yards per carry last year. Harrisburg was the top-ranked District 3 team heading into the 6A playoffs last season. It was a tumultuous campaign as the Cougars struggled to get a 4th game on their schedule which they needed to qualify for the playoffs. At the last minute they were able to schedule State College, who they beat soundly. However, their season was derailed the following week when a COVID situation forced them to forfeit their District 3 semifinal game against William Penn.
Allegheny County Games of the Week
South Fayette at Montour
South Fayette and Montour were conference opponents from 2016-2019 in the 4A Northwest Conference. South Fayette topped Montour in all four regular season meetings, but in 2017 Montour topped the Lions in the semifinals 35-27 in a come-from-behind victory with 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Last season, South Fayette moved up to 5A and while their 64-game conference winning streak came to an end, they did qualify for the playoffs for the 11th straight year. Meanwhile, Montour was poised to make the 4A playoffs but was knocked out in the final week when they were upset by 1-win Beaver. Both teams will be working in a number of new starters this season. For South Fayette that is QB Landon Lutz while sophomore Nate Deanes and junior Christian Brandi will both be featured in the backfield. Montour returns a number of starters on the lines, but will also be working in new starters at the skill positions. At running back, Caleb Williams averaged over 7 yards per carry in limited work last season.
Bethel Park at Mt. Lebanon
Neighboring communities in the South Hills were conference foes in AAAA then in 6A until Bethel Park moved down to 5A in 2018. Mt. Lebanon is one of the favorites in 6A with a loaded group of seniors returning. Meanwhile, Bethel Park is looking to bounce back from a winless season that was riddled with injuries. Mt. Lebanon has a 3-year starter at quarterback in Joey Daniels who threw for over 1000 yards and 14 TDs last season. Leading rusher Alex Tecza and leading receiver Eli Heidenreich (a Navy-commit) are also back for the Blue Devils. Bethel Park also has a talented quarterback in Max Blanc, a Youngstown State-commit. The Blackhawks are typically a run-heavy team and will lean on senior RB Troy Volpatti who ran for over 500 yards last season.
Armstrong County Game of the Week
Armstrong at Freeport
Two teams with designs on the postseason get together for a Week 0 clash. While there isn’t any history between these two schools, Armstrong was formed by the merger of Kittanning and Ford City, both of whom were rivals of Freeport in the AA Allegheny Conference. Since the merger and the move to six classes, Armstrong has played in 4A and Freeport in 3A. Armstrong QB Cadin Olsen led the WPIAL in passing as a sophomore last year with over 2000 yards and 23 TDs. The Riverhawks will be working in a new group of receivers for Olsen after their top four graduated. On the other side, Freeport had a number of underclassmen see time last season due to injuries. Ben Lane is back after leading the Yellow Jackets in both passing and rushing. Senior QB Garrett King, who missed last year after being diagnosed with cancer, may also see the field. Leading receiver Vinnie Clark is also back for Freeport who should once again be a tough defensive squad.
Beaver County Games of the Week
Blackhawk at Beaver Falls
The top game in Beaver County this week is between Blackhawk and Beaver Falls, who are old rivals from the 1970s and early 80s. Beaver Falls is the defending WPIAL 2A Champions while Blackhawk missed the 4A playoffs last season. Both teams will be moving to open up their offenses this season after run-heavy approaches in the past. Beaver Falls saw two 1000-yard rushers graduate and will lean on QB Jaren Brickner who threw for over 900 yards last season. Leading receivers junior Trey Singleton and senior Quadir Thomas both averaged over 30 yards per catch last season. For Blackhawk, their passing game will get a boost from WR Lorenzo Jenkins who transferred from Fox Chapel where he had nearly 500 yards and 7 TDs last year. The Cougars also have a returning quarterback in Carson Davidson who threw for over 700 yards last season.
New Brighton at Western Beaver
Two Beaver County teams that play in separate 2A conferences will square off on Saturday afternoon. New Brighton narrowly missed the playoffs in the Midwestern Conference last year, losing a tiebreaker with Laurel. Western Beaver finished second in the Three Rivers Conference and made the playoffs last season. This game has the subplot of Western Beaver being the #8 seed last year and New Brighton arguably being the first team out which the WPIAL selection committee has admitted debating between for the final playoff spot. Both teams return starting quarterbacks. For New Brighton, that is Gabe Haddox who threw for over 300 yards last year and should see his role increase this year. Leading receiver Keandre Williams also returns. On the other side, 700-yard passer Xander Lefebvre returns for Western Beaver. His top two receivers graduated, but leading rushers Thad Gray (386 yards, 6 TDs) and Cameron Irvine (280 yards, 1 TD) both return for the Golden Beavers.
Butler County Game of the Week
North Hills at Mars
Both North Hills and Mars are traditionally run-heavy teams that saw significant portions of their backfield graduate. While North Hills is technically in Allegheny County, this is the best matchup featuring a team from Butler County. Mars made the playoffs for the 16th straight season while North Hills narrowly missed last year. These two teams were conference opponents in the 2018-19 cycle when Mars played in 5A, but now the Planets have moved back down to 4A. Mars’ run-heavy offense produced the WPIAL’s leading rusher last season, but with Teddy Ruffner graduating they will need to find a new back to fill the role. In total, their top three rushers all graduated and the only returning starters are four offensive linemen. Junior Rafael Bartley, who was an all-conference defensive back last year, will step into the quarterback role. For North Hills, they will do everything they can to get the ball in the hands of dynamic WR/DB/KR Robert Dickerson who had over 600 yards of total offense and scored TDs in 4 different ways last season. Chase Foskey figures to take over the lead back role in the Indians run-heavy offense after averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season.
Fayette County Game of the Week
Laurel Highlands at Connellsville
A game between Fayette County foes who have both been struggling to get back to the postseason since the move to six classifications. In the decade prior to the change, Laurel Highlands made the AAA playoffs 7 times and Connellsville made the AAAA playoffs 4 times. Neither team has reached the postseason since the classification change in 2016 where Connellsville went to 5A and Laurel Highlands to 4A. As mentioned above, this is the WMBS Game of the Week as Laurel Highlands boasts the best athlete Fayette County has produced in decades in two-sport star Rodney Gallagher. The Mustangs started last year with Gallagher at quarterback then moved him to receiver. All told, Gallagher put up over 800 yards of total offense and 11 TDs between passing, rushing, and receiving. He also had one of the best pick-sixes you’ll ever see. Senior Joe Chambers took the helm at QB when Gallagher moved outside and threw for 414 yards and 3 TDs. For Connellsville, they will need to replace their entire starting backfield at both the QB and RB positions, but will have some continuity on the outside. Leading receiver Jason McBride (270 yards, 2 TDs) and Josh Marietta (136 yards, 1 TD) both return. This game has the potential to be a shootout as both teams finished last season with the worst defense in their respective conferences – Laurel Highlands allowing 35 points per game and Connellsville giving up 48 per game.
Greene County Game of the Week
Waynesburg at Carmichaels
This is the only game this week featuring a head-to-head matchup of Greene County teams. West Greene (who might be the best team in the County) is taking on neighboring rival Cameron, West Virginia. Mapletown, with star running back Landon Stevenson, is taking on Avella in an intriguing matchup of Tri-County South teams that does not count as a conference game. This game has plenty on the line. Waynesburg enters the season on a 14-game losing streak. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, they will have some early-season opportunities with three games against 1A Tri-County South opponents before entering conference play in the 2A Century Conference. Waynesburg sophomore Breydon Woods led the team in rushing with over 500 yards last season. Carmichaels narrowly missed the 1A playoffs last year after losing a Casket Match to Avella, but returns dual-threat QB Trenton Carter who threw for 760 yards and 7 TDs and ran for 327 yards and 5 TDs. Carter’s Michael Stewart (319 yards, 5 TDs) returns for his senior season and Peyton Schooley should be featured in the running game after averaging 7 yards per carry.
Indiana County Game of the Week
Ligonier Valley at Indiana
Indiana County actually contains three WPIAL teams – in addition to Indiana, portions of Apollo-Ridge and Armstrong are also in the County. Indiana is looking to contend for a playoff spot in the 4A Greater Allegheny Conference while Ligonier Valley has the potential to contend at the top of the 2A Allegheny Conference. Both teams return a number of players from teams that missed the playoffs last year. For Indiana, dual-threat QB Devin Flint returns for his senior season after running for nearly 1000 yards and 14 TDs last season. Flint’s backfield counterpart Zach Herrington (717 yards, 4 TDs) also returns and the duo should make for a formidable tandem on the ground. Ligonier Valley, who joined the WPIAL from D-6 last season, also has a dual-threat QB in Haden Sierocky who threw for 559 yards and 7 TDs and ran for 676 yards and 12 scores last year. Sierocky and backfield partner Nick Beitel (642 rushing yards, 147 receiving yards, 4 total TDs) will present a good challenge for Indiana’s defense.
Lawrence County Game of the Week
Shenango at Neshannock
The best game on the Lawrence County slate is between Shenango and Neshannock, two schools separated by less than 9 miles. Neshannock, to the north of New Castle, finished in the middle of the pack of the 2A Midwestern Conference. Shenango, to the south of New Castle, moved down from 2A to 1A last year and tied Rochester for the Big Seven Conference title and reached the semifinals. These teams were conference rivals for years before Shenango moved down to 1A last year. The Wildcats lost leading rusher and defensive tone-setter Reis Watkins to graduation, but return quarterback Tino Campoli (746 yards, 8 TDs). Offensive playmaker CJ Miller figures to be the focal point of the offense after being second on the team in rushing (291 yards), receiving (190 yards) and scoring (6 total TDs) last season. Neshannock returns a number of starters including the dynamic Cam’ron Owens who led the team in rushing (621 yards), receiving (98 yards), and scoring (8 total TDs) last season. Fellow rising senior Kurt Sommerfield was used as a dual-threat QB last season, throwing for 380 yards and 3 TDs and running for 186 yards and 3 TDs. Neshannock was a run-heavy team with Owens and Sommerfield while Shenango was relatively balanced and should attack more through the air this year with Campoli.
Washington County Game of the Week
Canon-McMillan at Trinity
Neighboring school districts in Washington County face off in a rivalry matchup. Both of these schools narrowly missed the playoffs last year with Canon-Mac finishing 5th in the 6A Quad County Conference and Trinity finishing 4th in the 4A Big Eight Conference. The Big Macs return starters across the offense. Leading rusher Ryan Angott (672 yards, 7 TDs) had the most yards of any returning back in 6A. Quarterback Lamont Lyons (389 yards, 3 TDs) also returns along with his leading receivers Chris Davis (114 yards, 2 TDs) and Anthony Finney (110 yards). On the other side, Trinity also returns their starting quarterback in Connor Roberts who threw for 662 yards and 9 TDs. The Hillers will have to find starters at other offensive skill positions but will lean heavily on jack-of-all-trade Drew Cain and WR Tysean Lacks.
Westmoreland County Game of the Week
Derry at Latrobe
Neighboring school districts in Westmoreland County were able to reignite their historic rivalry thanks to the installation of Week 0 back in 2016. Derry dominated early, claiming resounding victories in 2016, 2017, and 2018. But in 2019 Latrobe bounced back and beat their neighbors 20-14. Both teams missed out on the playoffs last year, finishing in the middle of the pack in their respective conferences (Derry in the 3A Allegheny Seven Conference and Latrobe in the 5A Big East Conference). Derry will be looking to replace a number of starters after a large graduating class. The Trojans are typically a run-heavy outfit and will lean on Eric Cantone, Ahmad Ward and Mason Breeman to run behind a senior-heavy line. For Latrobe, Bobby Fetter will take the reigns at quarterback and has some ability on the ground after running for over 5 yards per carry last season. Drake Clayton will step into the lead back role after averaging 6.7 yards per carry and should make for a formidable tandem with Fetter.